Finance Committee Making "Headway" But Rejects Deadlines

08/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Key negotiators in the Senate Finance Committee refused to set a date for their version of health care reform after their Tuesday meeting, but said they are edging closer to an agreement.

"We're making significant headway," committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said on his way to the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon after his meeting with the rest of his self-described "coalition of the willing" -- Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

"I'm probably more optimistic about that now than earlier," Baucus said.

Conrad voiced similar sentiments upon his exit from the meeting. "It's been a very good morning," he said, citing a lengthy conference call with actuaries specializing in insurance reform who answered a variety of policy questions.

Those questions, Conrad said, dealt with the consequences of mandates that would penalize individuals who do not have coverage or businesses that do not cover employees. Baucus said tradeoffs for people unable to pay for insurance and younger people who feel they don't need to were also primary concerns. Both senators, however, declined to say what conclusions they reached.

On how to deal with revenue sources, Baucus said, they had found some common ground, but declined to elaborate.

The question of taxing the luxurious so-called "Cadillac plans," according to Conrad, has still not been resolved.

The committee members will resume discussion at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Baucus said, and after another break will meet again at 7 p.m. "We're going to come back with some better, more detailed tradeoffs," he said. "We've got more to go."

President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are both pushing for a floor vote before next month's Congressional recess. Conrad said Tuesday that Finance negotiations are not consciously ignoring that timeframe, but dismissed the idea of a hard deadline. "That is just totally not a useful exercise," he said. "It is in some ways out of our hands when the job is done, because you don't control when the CBO finishes their scoring. ... We give options to CBO, they score those options. It takes time."

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